Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall

Negative Cat by Sophie Blackall. Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021. 9780399257193

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? “On day 427 of asking for a cat,” the persistent narrator finally wears his parents down.  There are a few conditions, of course, not the least of which is that the boy reads for twenty minutes every day.  “Ugh!” he says, “I’m not so great at reading!”  The cat is chosen, renamed from Pookie to Max, and brought home.  Max is not a friendly or excitable cat; in fact, the family soon agrees, he is kind of negative (and pretty poorly behaved).  The boy is not living up to his end of the bargain, either, and Mom is threatening to return Max to the shelter.  The shelter lady comes for a home visit and the boy and Max retreat to the boy’s bedroom – after cleaning up, he starts reading slowly, out loud (“the only way I know how”) and Max snuggles up to listen.  And instead of taking Max back, the shelter lady invites the pair to come to the shelter to read to the cats there, and soon it becomes a school project (inspiring all of the boy’s classmates to want cats of their own!)

 The illustrations have a vintage feel, with lots of charming details such as the names of the other cats in the animal shelter and the boy’s choice of a read aloud (Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats) at the turning point of the story.  The first person narration is endearing and funny, and it’s interspersed with speech bubble commentary from the other family members, including a grumpy teenage sister.  Inspired by Sophie Blackall’s own Negative Cat as well as by a story about a reading program at a rescue center in Pennsylvania, this lovely, old-fashioned story about the therapeutic value of pets will find a home with many readers (reluctant or otherwise).  It is particularly noteworthy for highlighting that the benefits work both ways – the reader becomes more confident, and the animal becomes calmer and less nervous.  An author’s note explains the story’s origins and encourages readers to reach out to local rescue centers if they are interested in a Book Buddies program.

Anything you did not like about the book?  No!

To whom would you recommend this book? Students in grades K-2 who gravitate toward pet stories will definitely enjoy it, but it may also be valuable as an introductory read aloud in classroom or library settings where therapy animal programs are happening.  

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: December 30, 2021

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